by Chanticleer – James Thomson

Wilson Asset Management founder Geoff Wilson: "If we can get this to 50,000 to 100,000 signatures, then Labor will ...

Wilson Asset Management founder Geoff Wilson: “If we can get this to 50,000 to 100,000 signatures, then Labor will crack.
I am 100 per cent sure of that.” David Rowe

The mental image of urbane fund manager Geoff Wilson taking up a placard and protesting outside parliament is enough to put a smile on the face of anyone in the market.

But it could well happen.

Wilson’s fury at Labor’s proposed changes to dividend imputation rules, which would stop individual and super funds claiming cash refunds for excess imputations credits not used to offset tax liabilities, has been bubbling along for some months. He’s been steadily mobilising his army of 80,000 investors across the Wilson Asset Management listed investment companies to support his campaign.

Wilson’s petition on the matter has 17,000 signatures, but he wants more.

“I really think we are getting some traction, but we really need to get the numbers,” Wilson said on a call with investors from across the WAM empire, including WAM Capital, WAM Leaders and the new listed investment company, WAM Global.

“If we can get this to 50,000 to 100,000 signatures, then Labor will crack. I am 100 per cent sure of that.”

Committee inquiry focus
He is particularly looking forward to upcoming House of Representatives Economic Committee hearings on the Labor plan, which he declares will be “as powerful as we’ve seen in the royal commission”.

“The committee inquiry into what this will do will be equally insightful because of what this is going to do to people, effectively older Australians,” he says.

“What disturbs me is that I don’t think people understand how crippling these changes will be to people who have abided by all the laws for the last 10 or 20 years of their lives.

“A government is just going to change the whole environment, effectively move the goal posts.”

Labor insists that its plan, which will save around $55 billion over a decade, is aimed at the wealthy, and says more than half of all cash refunds going to self-managed superannuation funds are going to those with balances of more than $2.4 million.

Investor stories
But the stories flooding in from WAM investors, which have been shared with Chanticleer, tell a very different story.

In several cases, it seems retirees who are currently not receiving the pension will need to restructure their lifestyles so they can access it, given Labor has agreed to ensure pensioners are not left worse off under its plan.

“My husband and I have voted Labor all our lives, he was a welder for 42 years and I had three jobs: head of our family household, waitress and shop assistant,” one investor wrote after signing the WAM petition.

“I only recently retired after 37 years of working and now help care for my grandchild as childcare is too expensive for my daughter to afford. I still work part time casual to earn some extra pocket money to spoil my granddaughter, but this means I don’t qualify for the age pension.

“Due to these changes I will now be worse off working, and will have to stop working to qualify for the aged pensions instead. This is so unfair, my daughter is a single mother so I help earn a bit more money to ensure my granddaughter does not go without and look less well than her class mates at school.”

Another investor told a similar tale.

“I am eligible for a disability support pension and would qualify if our funds were held in superannuation. Instead we have chosen to support ourselves by rolling over to account-based pensions,” they said.

“If the refund of imputation is no longer allowed, we will roll back to superannuation and apply for disability support pensions as that would then be the most beneficial financial strategy for us – but the taxpayer will be worse off as a result.”

Wilson believes stories like this will resonate on the stage provided by a parliamentary hearing.

He’d like to time his upcoming road show of investor meetings with the committee hearings, such that he could lead a little protest march to ram home his point.

“To me, every voter should be voting against Labor so this doesn’t come in. It’s people’s mothers, grandmothers, their fathers who are affected by this. To me it’s appalling.”

Wilson is a nothing if not a showman, but his passion on this subject is very real.

And he’s right. A parade of retirees going before parliamentary hearings and telling their stories will grab plenty of attention, and make life more than a little uncomfortable for Labor as its heads towards what looks like an inevitable victory in next year’s federal election.